Friday, April 11, 2014

A Wrinkle in Time

Madeleine L’Engle
Completed 4/7/2014, Reviewed 4/9/2014
3 stars

Meg is the awkward, friendless 14 year old daughter of two brilliant scientists.  Bored with school and ignored by other kids, she often finds herself at odds with both her classmates and teachers.  She’s close to her 5 year old little brother, Charles Wallace, who didn’t speak until the age of 5, and then spoke in complete sentences, and seems to know what she’s thinking.  She also has twin 10 year old brothers.  Charles Wallace is special, much more intelligent than other children, and to her dismay, so is Meg.  Only recently, has she befriended the 17 year old Calvin, and she doesn’t quite trust him yet.

But there is a problem at home.  Her father has been away from home for 4 years working on secret government projects.  A year ago, he disappeared completely, and no one has been able to give the family any answers.  So her mother continues to work on experiments in their home lab while trying to raise her four children in a gossipy suburban town. 

Three women, Mrs. Whatsits, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, appear and whisk Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace to other worlds on a quest to save their father from a darkness so terrible, that it threatens to turn the inhabitants of the universe into fearful, controlled slaves, devoid of individuality.

When I read a YA novel, I try to put myself in a specific mindset, making myself open to the simplicity and naiveté that I often find helps my experience of the book.  I approached this the same way.  And I did find some wonder.  I loved Mrs. Whatsits, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, three beings who are much more powerful, intelligent, and omnipotent than first appear.  I loved Aunt Beast, another alien from a race of sightless, tentacled beings who have unconditional love, understanding, and patience. 

One thing I find remarkable about the book is the simple but efficient introduction of warping time and space, that is, creating the “wrinkle”, into a children’s novel.  I don’t think the concept even entered popular culture until “Star Trek”, which first appeared a few years later.  Another thing I find interesting is that L’Engle’s aliens aren’t just the anthropomorphizing of earthly animals.  They’re not talking cat people as in Fritz Leiber’s “The Wanderer”.  They’re more complex, like the aliens imagined by Clifford D. Simak.  Again, for a children’s novel, I think it is quite remarkable.

“A Wrinkle in Time” is a much-loved classic young-adult SF novel.  It is so popular, people noticing me reading it in a coffee shop came up to me to tell me it was one of their favorite books.  A few weeks ago, in our county’s library system, there were 18 holds on 17 copies. 

I think this book has been so enduring because of its simplicity.  It’s theme of good v. evil, conformity v. individualism can be overlaid on so many struggles of the past and present.  This book was published in the heart of the struggle for equal rights for women and minorities, the fear of communism, the fear of McCarthyism, the harsh social pressure for conformity in the suburbs and small towns, many aspects of which continue today.  The drama of the gifted child is demonstrated through both Meg and Charles Wallace.  And the difficulty of growing up is universal. 

But I couldn’t identify with Meg, the main character.  As short as this book is, there is some real character development for her.  She grows enormously by facing the profound confrontation between good and evil.  She puts away her childish behavior to take on a burden that’s too much to ask even of an adult.  But despite my own memories of being awkward, misplaced, and shunned as a child, and eventually redeemed like Meg, I had no empathy for her. Everyone I’ve spoken to about the book say that they identified with Meg.  To me, she was just a character in a book.

In the end, I simply felt indifferent towards the book.  That saddens me and is very hard to admit.  There were parts I loved, and I’m glad I read it.  But knowing most people’s experience of the book, I want to believe I would have enjoyed it much more if I read it as a 10 year old.  As an adult, I give it 3 stars, though as a 10 year old, I’m hoping I would have given it 5.

No comments:

Post a Comment